As I get older, I find myself becoming more and more like my mother and grandmother. Do you feel the same way? I’ve begun taking on some of their habits—even habits that used to annoy me!
One such habit is my grandmother’s penchant for saving and reusing discarded things. Every Christmas, Nanay would open her presents at an agonizingly slow pace, carefully peeling off tape, salvaging ribbons from the pile of wrapping on the floor, and neatly folding gift wrap to be reused the following year. It drove us all a little bonkers. We always told her to just rip off the paper and toss it—something, having lived through the scarcity of wartime, she was simply incapable of doing.
My grandmother also kept empty glass bottles and jars for purposes unknown. A few months before she died, I sat by her bedside one afternoon talking about the wedding with my mom and Marlon. She was 91, bedridden and feeding through a tube by this time.
She apologized for not having anything to give us as a wedding present—except four empty glass jars of Lily’s Peanut Butter (the kind with flowers painted on) that she’d asked her nurses to save. The nurses were embarrassed to bring out the glasses, but I barely held back my tears as I took them and thanked her. Even thinking about it now makes me cry!
Maybe Nanay was just ahead of her time. Today we call my grandmother’s habit by new, hip names: upcycling, repurposing. I now save bottles and jam jars, and use them to organize our kitchen pantry.
Our pantry is a huge drawer that’s about 1.2 meters wide and 30 cm deep (a little less than four feet wide and a foot deep). It can get messy, so I put loose things—like nuts, spices, and lentils—into recycled jars.
To make things easier to find, I labeled all the lids. Initially I used washi tape, but I scrapped that in favor of some leftover chalkboard paint from Tala’s nursery. Painting all the lids a single color helped unify the entire assortment.
I wrote the contents of each jar on the lid with a chalkboard marker…
Saving jars is an ongoing project, and not just because it helps me organize my kitchen. Each time I steam the label off a pasta sauce bottle or wash an empty jam jar, I think a little bit about my grandmother. I’m pretty sure she would have been pleased.